Time to read: 4 minutes. Exceptionally successful doctors and medical professionals are applying social media tools to create more meaningful relationships with — and positive outcomes for — patients. Are you a pharmaceutical company looking to help physicians achieve these goals? A doctor? An adviser to medical practices? I’ll show you how to quickly plan and implement social media tools in ways that produce meaningful patient outcomes.
Patients demand more from doctors today than ever before. But too often they receive little if any “quality time” with their docs. Our current medical system simply doesn’t support meaningful doctor-patient relationships. Rather than fight the system, thriving medical practices are applying Internet technologies that create qualitative patient outcomes and strengthen patient-physician bonds in measurable ways.
In other words some medical offices are using affordable, accessible Web technology to supplement the weakening patient-doctor relationship. How? For starters, by distributing vital information to patients in personalized, customized ways.
Quick example: A physician’s office may take 6 to 8 calls per day dealing with arthritis treatment. Pediatricians take calls dealing with asthma, allergies, etc. Doctors simply don’t have the time to personally take calls or respond to patient inquiries. Office staff may or may not step in to provide patients with medication advice, general information about the disease, treatment, etc. Often the patient-doctor relationship suffers.
Solution example: Use mobile Web and/or social media technologies to do the heavy lifting — to deliver desperately needed information to patients in a personalized, high-touch manner.
So — here’s what medical practices can do, starting tomorrow, to begin creating more meaningful patient outcomes using Web media.
Organize people and technology to support desired outcomes
Looking for a successful model? The US AirForce (yes, the Air Force!) provides an outstanding example of how to organize a group of people with a common mission around an objective — using simple forms of communications (email, blogs, social media, etc.) as a tool. They’re using a discover-evaluate-respond method.
Discover: An inter-disciplinary team evaluates each inbound communication. They also monitor discussions mentioning the Air Force across the vast Web using simple, free tools like Google Alerts.
Evaluate: Team members evaluate each opportunity for validity/authenticity (is it a real person making the comment or question?), strength (does the opinion matter?), etc.
Respond: Appropriate team members respond in a pre-determined manner based on “rules of engagement” that the Air Force has committed to as an organization (just as a patient care provider/practice would). Not all situations earn the attention of a staff member. Similarly, if a patient is just being a trouble-maker they may not earn a response; however, if it’s a “squeaky wheel” situation where they need help a response is mandated.
Here’s how to start.
A weekly, cross-functional meeting is the first step.
Create your “rules of engagement.” Start simple by addressing routine patient inquiries — deciding on how to gather up, process and respond to them. How will you accept patient inquiries? (telephone, email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) How will you respond, within what time-frame and under what limited circumstances? How will you set expectations among patients for your new communications program? (share the rules of engagement via promises you make to patients)
It’s critical to decide what is a “routine inquiry” and what is “special.” Routine inquiries like disease treatment information often does not require a physician’s time. Yet these majority of situations are an opportunity to strengthen the patient-doctor bond. Digital media simply gives medical offices the ability to scale time more efficiently and deliver a personalized outcome.
Resist the urge to over-automate (de-humanize) and keep the focus on qualitative experiences
Again, most marketers make this mistake — they see Amazon.com sending out highly relevant emails based on a sophisticated “product suggestion engine” and think they can do it themselves for $19.95 a month using a simple auto-responder system with pre-programmed rules.
A lesson can be learned from traditional marketers — who often fail to apply social Web tools in ways that produce qualitative results. Most marketers tend to focus on interacting in mass — focusing on number of emails blasted, Twitter tweets broadcast, Facebook friend connections made. Success is in numbers.
Physicians and medical practitioners cannot afford to interact quantitatively. Qualitative interactions foster a personal, human touch. A meaningful bond.
Get physicians/specialists involved — when it makes sense
Yes, special situations may arise that require physician/specialist intervention… such as when a patient has already received basic treatment information and is seeking more in-depth research on the topic. A minute of a physician’s time may be required to locate the most up-to-date cases or research. Practitioners can set aside 30 minutes a day to process that fraction of total inquiries that demands their attention.
Realize and act on patients’ expectation of value added, personalized services
Patients — like consumers of products and services — don’t just want more free, high-value services. They expect them! In the case of medicine it’s very information-focused. How can your practice deliver?